Pitch Dark: A Novel (Mike Bowditch Mysteries, 15)

Image of Pitch Dark: A Novel (Mike Bowditch Mysteries, 15)
Release Date: 
June 25, 2024
Minotaur Books
Reviewed by: 

“Readers are advised to clear their deck for a fast, intense reading experience. It’s impossible to predict what will happen next . . .”

Like tense stories? Then open this one and read from page 1 to the end for nonstop tension.

It starts with a nervous conversation between Maine Game Warden Investigator Mike Bowditch and his new wife who might be pregnant. From there into life-threatening chases through the stormy woods all the way to a twisty conclusion, you’ll get enough tension to need to lie down afterward with a hot compress on your forehead.

The story wouldn’t be quite so tense if Mike had mastered the bullish side of his nature in 14 previous adventures. Yes, he has matured over the series, and takes another leap forward in this volume, but the fighting instinct that makes him a survivor—and a heck of a lawman—still lights off when challenged by criminals. (“Ten years on the job, I was still too easy to bait: a bull always on the lookout for red capes and rodeo clowns.”)

An especially red waving cape comes in the guise of a desperate killer using his own 12-year-old daughter as a hostage.

This killer, master log-home builder Mike Redmond, is living off-grid in the northern wilds with his daughter, purportedly homeschooling her while building a house for a well-known local bush pilot. The odd arrangement triggers Mike’s trouble instincts when he learns about another man gone missing after seeking a man and girl hiding in the woods.

The bush pilot reluctantly flies Mike and his mentor (now father-in-law) Charley to the build site for an interview with Redmond that validates Mike’s instincts: he, Charley, and the pilot are all drugged during the interview and wake up tied to trees in the rain as Redmond and his daughter flee.

At that, the chase is on. Redmond has destroyed all means of communication and transportation on his way out, marooning Mike and company in the wilderness. The rest of the story is how they escape and ultimately Mike alone pursues the mysterious fugitive and his daughter through the hostile forests and waters along the Canadian border.

Redmond is the first man Mike has met who can outsmart him in his own environment. Not only is Redmond an experienced woodsman but also, from long experience on the run, he has put in place escape routes, cohorts, and supplies while Mike must blindly pursue him, stripped of assets and backup.

Often, Redmond anticipates Mike’s moves, and Mike only escapes fatal ambushes by holding to Charley’s advice about Redmond’s superior skills. In these moments, the old charging-bull Mike integrates with the new strategic-thinker Mike and he is able to gain ground. But not without setbacks. Between the disadvantages he starts out with on the chase, and the hazards thrown into his path by the dense and saturated forest, plus the delays and threats from people Mike encounters in transit, he is never out of danger.

He also jeopardizes his career by pursuing his quarry over the border to prevent more deaths. So many die or are harmed along the way, with the killer always escaping, that Mike will do anything in his power to stop him, impelled not just by moral and legal right but most intensely by need to save the child.

Mike’s almost-superhuman endurance and ability to think under duress are made credible by the author’s steady development of this character. Likewise, Doiron continues to ground the action in this place. Even during the most dramatic moments, the author weaves in elements that remind Mike constantly of where he is and what he’s up against, and why he loves it so passionately that he can’t separate himself from his job. Yet he’s willing to sacrifice it and bear the consequences in order to end the cascading tragedy he’s been thrust into.

Adding to story tension is its 36-hour timeline, with much occurring during the pitch dark of the title. Readers are advised to clear their deck for a fast, intense reading experience. It’s impossible to predict what will happen next, and only the hardiest reader will be able to resist turning pages to find out.